Ram Records boss Andy C spoke to Mark Dale about his DJing techniques, running a label and the summer festival season ahead.
Last updated: 25th May 2016. Originally published: 13th May 2016
Andy C aka Andrew Clarke is Britain's best loved drum n' bass DJ. In 2001 he was the highest ranked British DJ (number four) in a global public vote for Best DJ Of All Time organised by Mixmag and in the same year won the Best DJ title at the Drum and Bass Arena Awards, awards in which he has won the people's vote for Best DJ each year since they started.
He specialises in fast mixing, often using three turntables and employs a signature mixing style known as the Double Drop whereby two records drop their basslines at the same time. It is as a DJ that Andy C is known as Britain's greatest drum n' bass export, particularly in America. He tours the globe and plays large scale festivals throughout the annual calendar.
In addition to his DJing Andy co-founded and helps run one of Britain's most respected drum n' bass labels, Ram Records. The label has had two subsidiaries, Frequency and current concern Program and has achieved chart success and help launch the careers of artists like Chase & Status, Wilkinson, Sub Focus and Andy C himself.
Andy began his production career in 1991, producing rave and breakbeat hardcore music before drum n' bass emerged as a genre. His breakthrough release, as part of Origin Unknown, came in 1993 with the drum n' bass / rave classic 'Valley of The Shadows', often referred to as '31 Seconds' or 'Long Dark Tunnel' because of the vocal samples it contained.
He has since collaborated with the likes of Shimon, recorded as part of Ram Trilogy, signed a solo deal for some of his solo material with Atlantic and remixed countless artists.
Hi Andy! How you doing? Where are you speaking to me from?
Hi! I'm doing good. How are you? I'm speaking to you from sunny Hornchurch in Essex, my home town. I feel quite inspired today, the sun's out and it looks like a nice day. I might get outside and enjoy myself.
There's already a lot going on in drum n' bass music compared to many dance music genres. How do you employ three turntables to present the genre with muddling the sound?
Well, you know, the art of mixing in all genres has always been prevalent, since DJs started performing. It's all I've ever done. Obviously I started off on two turntables and then moved on to three maybe ten years ago. It's all about keeping the flow of the tunes. I've always liked two tunes to drop together. I've never been asked that question before. Mixing's what DJs do, isn't it?
Sorry to surprise you with the question! I don't like to ask stuff that people have asked before, I like to keep you on your toes.
Yeah. I just love mixing. There's no greater feeling than when you've got two tunes locked in perfect sync and they're working together, bouncing off each other. They're almost creating a new song, playing the two together. I guess that's the art and that's the fun in mixing. My job, why I'm up there, is to get it right.
You mentioned that you like to have two tunes drop at the same time. Is that something you've only been able to do since the advent of digital DJ equipment? I would imagine that getting the timings right to do that on vinyl would be incredibly difficult.
No, not at all! I've been doing that since... That's what I do. I don't use sync. I don't use that digital equipment. I mix in an analog way. Two tunes to drop is what I've always done from way back when, on turntables.
Does that mean you have to count the bars, know the bars on each tune you're playing, to know that the drops are going to occur simultaneously?
Of course, yeah.
That must be really difficult. You have to know your records really, really well to do that.
Well, that's why I'm a DJ [laughs] That's what I do! I don't know what other DJs you've been speaking to. Do they just stick a bunch of records in the bag and go out and play 'em?
Well, yeah, some do. A lot of house or disco DJs won't have practised the mix they'll end up doing before.
You don't think so?
No. Some of the mixes will have been practised, but some will be totally spontaneous.
This is the thing, you do mix spontaneously, but you know your records. Because I'm a DJ and I love doing it I practice at home and you get to know your records. Counting bars is not difficult because generally dance music is made in eight and 16 bar blocks. So you're not going to get a record where you're going to get a random five bars or seven bars.
That's a part of DJing, isn't it? You get a feel for it. It's almost like muscle memory, you know, it just happens. There's a natural flow to it and you can predict what's going to happen. But you don't practice all the mixes at home, you learn the records at home. Then when you get out on the show you can do your thing.
How well equipped is an independent drum n' bass label like Ram to deal with the perhaps surprise chart success of the likes of Andy C, Chase & Status, Sub Focus and Wilkinson and the extra demands that puts on you
We grow with it. We grow together. Back in the day when Chase & Status was blowing up in the charts, then Wilkinson, you grow together. And our job as a label is to be a platform for artists to grow. We've just gone into partnership with BMG recently in order to expand the horizons and open up new opportunities for drum n' bass. We've done stuff with Virgin in the past.
We want to afford our artists the biggest and best opportunities for their music to reach people round the world. Being equipped to do that is a starting point and then exploring all the opportunities is our job.
You set up the sub label Frequency to specifically champion up and coming drum n bass artists. Would it be fair to say that your biggest success there was with Sub Focus?
Without a doubt. What a beautiful thing that was. How did I know you'd bring that up? I've just been down to his studio yesterday to listen to the new material he's working on and we was having a good old reminisce about the old days.
Yeah. His friend passed me a demo CD and said you gotta check this out. I listened to it and I was just blown away by the music on there and fortunately we had Frequency around at the time. That sort of justified having the label, just that one artist, didn't it?
You haven't had any releases on Frequency for a while. Why did you stop doing it?
No, we haven't. Our main sister label is now Program. I don't know why, it just seemed like it happened naturally. Everyone seemed to want to gravitate towards Ram. And I think sometimes the releases were getting a bit confused, are they a Ram release or are they a Frequency release? I guess it sort of naturally tailed off towards the mid 2000s and Program was born. That's our sister label now for emerging D&B.
What's the difference between the sounds of Ram and Program?
I would say Program tunes can be more stripped down, it's a hotbed for more tech-y, stripped down DnB. We get so many demos and have so many artists around us and Program stuff might be what people don't expect from Ram. I think it's hard hitting, really underground, roots drum n' bass, people we want to bring through. What quite often happens is that they want to get on Program, but their ultimate goal is to get projects out on Ram.
You said there that some Program releases might not be what some people expect from Ram. How difficult is it maintaining a signature sound after almost 25 years?
Well, it is incredibly difficult. I think in this day and age we like our artists to speak for themselves. You might sign an artist and they try and adapt their sound to fit what they think they should have on Ram and quite often that ends up compromising them as artists.
Originally we'll have signed them because we love what they do. So now we sign artists with the intention of promoting them and their sound. So, Ram might have had just a handful of artists back in the day and everything would have a signature sound, but that was only born out of the fact we were working with so few artists. Nowadays we want to promote the artist's sound.
You didn't release a single under your own name between 2003 and 2013. Why did that happen?
Basically the DJing completely took over my life. Was it really that long? Fuckin 'ell! I think there was a couple in there. I can't believe that it was ten years. I was certainly making tunes in that time. There was! 'Finders Keepers' was in 2006 and there were a couple of others, I'm sure. I was thinking it couldn't have been 10 years, plus there were remixes in that time.
But the DJing does take over and before you know it a year's gone. Time just flies, doesn't it? The DJing and the schedule really did take over in that time period. And, let's not forget, if you say there was a protracted gap from 2003 I had been making tunes for 12 years prior to that. My first one was out in 1991.
I think I probably just enjoyed the DJing, focussed on that and focussed on building the label and artists on it during that period. We'd brought through Sub Focus, we'd brought through Chase & Status, we'd brought through Wilkinson, so I guess my mind was focused elsewhere.
Why sign to Atlantic instead of remaining on your own label?
Because they're really into the music, I've got a great relationship with the guys and it affords us an opportunity to expand horizons and try out new stuff. Obviously I still release stuff on Ram, 'Haunting' and 'Workout' were on Ram, 'New Era' is on Ram. There are a whole host of other tunes coming on Ram this year.
So what's the deal with Atlantic? Have you signed up for an album or a certain amount of singles as Andy C?
Well we did 'Heartbeat Loud' on Atlantic and I've got another single coming out in a couple of months, if I can ever get it finished. We're working in an ongoing basis, releasing singles, music, but it's a very fluid, dynamic relationship.
Outside of artists appearing on your own labels, who else in drum n' bass has inspired you?
Many, many, many artists in drum n' bass. You don't want me to list them all, do you? [Laughs] There's a constant stream. All the Dutch guys like the Noisia crew, the guys from Belgium... There's a plethora of acts. I'm inspired by the whole of drum n' bass.
Why do you think so many drum n' bass artists who have quite big profiles over here have failed to crack America in the way you've done?
Well, first of all thank you for thinking that I've cracked America. Not in the Beatle-esque sense, of course! I've been going to America for a long, long time and it is the age old thing of just grinding it out, working, playing all the cities. And I have a great connection with some of the audiences in America. I've not really thought about the other artists, to be honest with you. I thought lots of people were going over and doing a lot, right?
Some of my favourite drum n' bass producers from years gone by like 4 Hero and Marcus Intalex have moved away from making drum n' bass but stayed in music production. If you made music that wasn't drum n' bass what music would you make?
Erm, it would probably have a funk and a groove edge to it, without a doubt. I was actually messing around with something the other day. Sometimes I might go in the studio and I might have a sample or an idea at a slower tempo. But I've been making music for a long time.
The first tune I had out was at 128 bpm, before drum n' bass existed. So, I've kinda made 4/4 records, I've made rave records, breakbeats. I think it'd always revolve around a breakbeat, that's for sure.
What gigs are you looking forward to playing this summer?
Can't wait for South West Four, Creamfields, Outlook Festival, Hideout..... I don't even know. I should have got my diary out in front of me, shouldn't I? [Laughs] EDC Festival as well.
What is it you like about those kind of gigs?
I just love festivals. Like, the sun's out today and I feel inspired. I just love when festival season starts up. You bump into everybody, you hang out, enjoy the huge crowds.
Is the atmosphere of a festival gig more easily comparable to the atmosphere at an old school rave than, say, a club gig?
I don't really know actually. No, I think they're different to be honest with you. The old school raves were in clubs, weren't they? A festival, in it's nature, you're outdoors. The beauty of a festival is that everybody's there, you're testing out new music, you might play to an audience that's never heard you before. It's always really cool to introduce new people to the music.
Andy C plays X Music Festival on Friday 3rd June. Tickets are available from the box below.